CIVIC SENS(E)ITIVITY The Ward Accountability Experiment by the volunteers of Transparent Chennai has shown the way for citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable. ZARA KHAN and TANYA THOMAS
The packed hall at the Indira Nagar Youth Hostel witnessed a new phenomenon in the culmination of the landmark “Ward Accountability Experiment” (WAE) last week. The volunteers of Transparent Chennai, a project of the Centre for Development Finance — IFMR, presented their findings on the civic amenities in Ward 176 to residents and ward councillor-elects. They had collected, created and disseminated data, maps and research on public sanitation, pedestrian walk-ability and surface garbage, aided by citizen groups, NGOs and various city colleges. Once these issues were brought to the fore, the ward councillor could either directly solve them or pass resolutions in the City Council to effect the change. Said Nithya V. Raman, Project Director for Transparent Chennai: “Basically our goal is to create the data needed for holding these elected representatives accountable and I think that this is an experiment and a first step towards doing that.”
The ward councillors elect, Ms. Prabavati from the BJP, Valliammal Subramanian from the AIADMK and Ms. Ratna Prabha from the Congress, were invited to share their ideas for improvement with the audience. Unfortunately, as a volunteer later said, “there were a lot of platitudes”. They definitely seemed unprepared to meet the onslaught of questions by the residents. Their usual promises to make a difference as soon as they could, made a few disgruntled residents to engage in a heated debate with the councillors. As the residents aired their grievances, Mr. Hande also reminded the councillors elect that in six months’ time, a score card would be prepared, demonstrating the progress made by him/her to address these issues.
Transparent Chennai’s pilot Ward Accountability Experiment has provided a platform for focussed questions and better answers to improve urban governance in the city. As Nityanand Jayaram, an independent journalist and social activist put it, “They’ve shown us that it can be done very simply; it’s a very easy way to hold your councillor accountable, a very objective mechanism to see how many of those red spots on the maps become green spots to indicate whether the councillor is working or not. I think the experiment has a lot of potential. I see it as a very plausible success in involving citizens and holding people accountable”.
ZARA KHAN is a student of Asian College of Journalism
Down to the last detail
We’re at Besant Nagar 31st Cross Street, armed with a plethora of maps, images printed out from Google Earth, survey sheets, measuring tape, and sketch pens. In the few hours that they’ve been walking the locality, Sophia and Venkatesh (second year students from the Madras School of Social Work) have turned pretty good at logging data for their Pedestrian Audit.
The two measure the width of footpaths, tally footfalls and traffic flow, scan for pedestrian obstructions, parking spaces and public seating spots. They comment on a street’s connectivity to “primary destinations” (like a grocery store) and enquire about street lights and night-time safety. All of this is marked on maps and entered in survey sheets. Once this street’s profile is complete, Venky and Sophia pull out another set of Google maps, get lost a little because of its missing roads, and finally find their way to their next destination: Besant Nagar 7th Cross Street.
Painstaking but incredibly comprehensive and fun, the civic awareness group Transparent Chennai, along with its student volunteers, spent most of their Saturdays last month studying pedestrian convenience, public sanitation, and surface garbage in Municipal Ward 176 as part of their Ward Accountability Experiment. The group plans to make these audit-templates available at their website, so interested residents can similarly size up civic issues plaguing their own localities. The team will then help you upload your compiled data to online maps, which can be accessed by a larger audience.Transparent Chennai believes there’s tremendous potential for crowd sourcing with this project. If it takes off, Chennai’s online maps will no longer be only about directions and distances; a lot more comprehensive data about civic amenities and a lot more accurate mapping could soon make its way to your next Google search.
TANYA THOMAS is a student of the Asian College of Journalism
The presentation given by Siddharth Hande, Research Consultant for Transparent Chennai, provided ample data to prove that the so called “posh” areas of the city were literally going to the dogs. Ward 176 claimed Transparent Chennai’s findings…
- Contained 11 public toilets, nine of which were unusable. In fact, one of the toilets, damaged by the tsunami in 2004, had not yet been repaired.
- Out of the 20 roads surveyed, only three were deemed walk-able and safe for pedestrians.
- Out of 111 dumpsters, only 70 were found to be usable; the others were either damaged or overflowing. And a whopping 46 roads in the area did not have dumpsters at all.
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